Luna Alcalay was born in Zagreb in 1928. After her family moved to Vienna she studied piano and composition there at the Conservatoire, from 1951. After successfully completing her studies in 1958, she gained a scholarship to spend a year at the Austrian Cultural Institute in Rome. For many decades she was an active pedagogue: from 1963 to 1995 she taught piano at the Universität für Musik in Vienna.
Luna Alcalay ranks among the leading Austrian composers of the second half of the 20th century. She registered international successes early on, also being the recipient of numerous prizes. In 1963 and 1964 she gained awards at the Darmstadt International Summer Courses for New Music, as well in the international competition of the Gaudeamus Foundation in the Netherlands. In 1973 came many selections and awards in the competition of the International Society for Contemporary Music in Italy, and in the same year she also won first prize in the Landesstudio Steiermark composition competition, as well as the Music Prize of her home town of Vienna in 1973 and 1992.
Her compositional beginnings lay in serialism, and this, following stimuli from the Darmstadt Summer Courses in the 60s, and Bruno Maderna, led to her finding a system of her own. In the 70s she began to engage with multi-media forms of expression. In 1994 she formulated things like this: “Initially caught up in the serial style; successive individualising moves, towards a personal system, preference for a signifying communicative language; ultimately one should mention a non-conformist attitude to music and tradition as very important factors in the working method.” This critical approach was expressed in her openness to various styles such as jazz, but above all in her commitment to humanity and deep emotionalism.
This commitment also found expression in her choice of topics. In 1968, on commission from the Austrian Music Council, she composed a “UNO-Cantata”, setting the text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1985 she wrote the opera “Jan Palach”, whose subject matter is the self-immolation of the twenty-year-old student in Prague’s Wenceslas Square on January 16th 1969, as a protest against the suppression of the Prague Spring.
On October 9th 2012 Luna Alcalay died in Vienna, just short of her 84th birthday.